Nightly News   |  December 08, 2013

Security risks accompany Mandela’s memorial service

On Tuesday Nelson Mandela will be memorialized in a ceremony attended by leaders from four continents – a collection of dignitaries that will be housed behind bullet-proof glass. NBC’s Lester Holt reports.

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>>> here this evening because it's the focus of so much of the world. this is the eve of what may be the largest gathering of heads of state ever, anywhere in the world. of course it's all for nelson mandela . he will come to lie in state at the union buildings behind us here in the capital city of pretoria. the outpouring has been so great since his death, the number of dignitaries reviewing here is so large, this nation is going to be pushed to capacity in terms of crowd control and transportation and accommodations and security, starting really when the sun comes up tomorrow. they are scrambling to accommodate presidents and kings and citizens. all while this country remains, of course, in mourning for this global figure that they happen to share with the world. so we will begin our coverage tonight with nbc's lester holt . he's just to the south of us outside the mandela home in soweto where to recall the's service will take place. lester, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening. you have to believe the largest stadium on the african continent isn't big enough to accommodate all those who want to say farewell to nelson mandelale. the guest list ranges from afghanistan to zimbabwe and a-list celebrities. a huge security challenge and a testament to nelson mandela 's global influence.

>> the appearance of the man they call madiba --

>> reporter: it was at f.a.b. stadium nelson mandela made his last public appearance at the world cup soccer finals.

>> tremendous emotion for that man.

>> reporter: today workers erected the stage where he'll be memorialized tomorrow, as police began erecting a perimeter as part of a security undertaking as big as any country has faced. protecting up to 100 heads of state and 95,000 members of the public.

>> any collection of dignitaries provides a risk and a potential platform for terrorist organizations. the south africans have to be ready.

>> reporter: president obama left washington today for south africa , accompanied by george and laura bush and hillary clinton . presidents clinton and carter traveled separately. also converging on south africa , leaders from four continents, from david cameron and dilma dilma rousseff . cuba's raul castro . the leaders will be behind bullet proof cast. the white house has confidence in the security arrangements including cancelling military leaves.

>> you have all the police, army deployed working together with the american and other secret services around the world.

>> reporter: today the official program for the memorial was released, listing family, friends and foreign dig any today -- dignitaries including president obama as speakers.

>> we with wouldn't miss it for the world.

>> reporter: martin and his wife are among perhaps tens of thousands who will try to attend tomorrow's memorial. their gratitude to mandela rooted in an interracial relationship that would have been illegal under apartheid.

>> we never could have been together with all my friends if it wasn't for mandela .

>> reporter: president obama arriving here early tuesday morning. we are heard he's been working on the speech, but no preview of what he plans to say.